This article originally appeared in the 2012 India Travel Planner. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.

Kaya Kalp spa at ITC Mughal Agra.


Charming Stays

India’s hotel landscape is a tightly woven tapestry of style, comfort and luxury that is as varied as it is exuberant. Not content with the usual amenities, the country’s polished hotel offerings step well outside the box with ladies-only floors, tents so embellished that they seem inspired by fairy tales, palaces still fit for royalty, countryside retreats that hark to another era and B&Bs that offer a window into a more authentic, home-grown Indian experience. Above all, the hotels and resorts of India seem to have one thing in common: that inimitable Indian hospitality, coupled with the celebration of a beautiful culture.

City Escapes

Most of India’s best-known hotel names—The Leela, Taj, ITC, Oberoi, The Claridges, to name a few—have made their fame in the cities. Last year, New Delhi’s shopping district welcomed The Oberoi, Gurgaon, an oasis in the country’s capital. With a cigar lounge, reflection pools and the city’s first 24-hour spa, the hotel is just the latest of many stars in the Oberoi roster. It features opulent suites with private heated pools, plus 24-hour butler service, Clefs d’Or concierge service and Rolls Royce and BMW 7 series limousines.

One of the capital city’s landmark hotels is The Claridges, New Delhi, an elegant property of classically gorgeous rooms and suites, some with private terraces, plus popular city gathering spots like The Vodka Bar and a shopping arcade. Its newer sister, The Claridges, Surajkund, Delhi, NCR, provides more modern five-star accommodations and The Claridges Spa, complete with a yoga and meditation studio.

Another Delhi icon is The Imperial, built in 1931. This restored colonial-style hotel welcomes guests with Porthault linens and well-stocked minibars in rooms; ladies traveling on their own have the option to choose an Eliza Room, with special amenities and a camera right outside their door. Its new Imperial Spa provides the latest and most time honored of therapies, and there are in-house astrologers available for consultations. Yet beyond its hallowed history and legendary offerings, The Imperial is equally known for its priceless art collection and guided art tours of the hotel are easily arranged through its concierge.

When size matters, The Leela Palace New Delhi, in the city’s Diplomatic Enclave area, delivers with rooms that are said to be among the largest in the city, and the Murano chandeliers, hand-carved elephants and miniature paintings adorning common areas blend in nicely with top-of-the-line comforts. Other perks: a huge ESPA spa, heated infinity pool on its rooftop and whiskey and wine bar.

No visitor to New Delhi will leave without driving to Agra for a peek at the Taj Mahal. ITC Mughal doesn’t just offer views of the most famous of Indian landmarks, but also features ITC Hotels’ flagship and award-winning Kaya Kalp-The Spa and just-as-decadent spa suites, which come with private pools, treatment room and steam room. No longer do guests just come to visit the Taj Mahal, just a short drive away from the hotel; the ITC Mughal’s spa, says general manager Sanjay Sharma, has “expanded the experience” of the destination, with guests extending their stay to indulge in pomegranate sugar scrubs, Abhyanga massage and other mind-and-body treats.

Visitors heading east to Kolkata will want to consider Fortune Select Loudon, an upscale hotel in the heart of Kolkata but tucked away in a quiet street away from the city’s busyness. This posh property is aimed at business travelers but pleases leisure visitors as well thanks to contemporary services and furnishings made for complete comfort. With a glittering pool, 24-hour room service and sleek, gold-tone decor in rooms and suites, guests can easily succumb to modern-day perks before and after their days of sightseeing and exploration.

In the northeast, the capital of the state of Sikkim welcomes one of Mayfair Hotels & Resorts’ most enchanting properties: the Mayfair Gangtok. This colonial charmer takes full advantage of Gangtok’s high altitude and scenic beauty, with warm and inviting rooms embraced by lush foliage and villas offering dipping pools in their balconies. Besides an array of fine dining options, there’s also a popular onsite casino here, plus a full-service Pevonia Spa. Children have a playground, play room and plenty of pool games to enjoy, while adults can also spend their time getting cozy in the library, mountain biking or trekking through the hills.

Of course, Mumbai is not without its share of formidable stays. Grand Hyatt Mumbai, in the Santacruz area, provides all the trappings of a Grand Hyatt stay with a wealth of local extras: a jogging track at the Club Oasis Fitness Centre & Spa, a wide array of Indian and international dining choices and a two-story shopping center filled with top designer stores. Besides highly enjoyable rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling windows, the Grand Hyatt Mumbai has serviced apartments for extended stays. Yet another unique plus to the hotel: a collection of more than 100 commissioned pieces of art, inspired by three archaeological sites in the city.

The Leela Kempinski Mumbai marries business and leisure options well through babysitting services, an expansive pool and acres of waterfalls and lotus ponds. Rooms and suites are overly comfortable, with guests who choose Royal Club accommodations enjoying extra services such as roundtrip limo transfers, a personalized butler, dedicated check-in and -out counter, and access to the Royal Club Lounge and its food and beverage selections.

In Chennai, the busy capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, the brand-new ITC Grand Chola boasts the largest ballroom in India, hand-carved marble throughout the palatial lobby and expansive hi-tech rooms. Like other ITC properties, the ITC Grand Chola also has a floor dedicated to accommodations for ladies traveling by themselves, dubbed Eva Rooms. These feature service from women butlers, enhanced security features like available screening of incoming calls and in-room female-friendly amenities. And like the rest of the brand’s luxury hotels, it closely follows ITC’s credo of “Responsible Luxury”; all of its luxury hotels have been accorded the LEED Platinum rating thanks to a wide array of environmentally friendly measures.

In bustling Gandhinagar, in the western part of the country, there’s the Cambay Spa & Golf Resort. Guests will find plenty of treatment options at the Orient Spa, a gaming zone for kids and tennis courts, plus access to a 9-hole course and a golf training academy.

Alila Hotels and Resorts, which made its debut in India with a beautiful hotel in Goa, now has the Alila Bangalore. Set in the Whitefield district, this sleek, contemporary retreat comes with private balconies for all rooms and suites, plus an infinity pool that overlooks the city’s skyline, wellness treatments at Spa Alila and a leisure concierge ready to put together golf, hiking or culinary excursions. Families who want to vacation in true comfort can choose one of the Alila Residences, which feature three bedrooms, kitchen, library, balcony and maid’s quarters.

After making a name for itself with properties in Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan, Vivanta by Taj’s new venture in Hyderabad, keeps building upon the brand’s “cool luxury” concept and “contemporary, energetic and vivacious twist,” according to Deepa Misra Harris, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces’ senior v.p. of sales and marketing. Another twist to the brand: each hotel offers a signature experience, known as the Vivanta Motif. At Vivanta by Taj-Begumpet, Hyderabad, this experience takes the form of exciting culinary journeys, including a day-long Gourmet Tourguided by the hotel’s executive chef. And besides a wide variety of premium restaurants, there’s also an in-the-pool dining experience served on glass tables. Its 181 rooms and suites are fully equipped with smart technology, and the Deluxe Allure Suites provide dazzling views of the city’s skyline.